Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 30, 2017
Wildalpen, Wales, weddings and a waterfall
It had been a wonderful day of sightseeing in the mountains of eastern Austria. But as evening approached, husband Art and I were in need of some food and a place to stay. We pulled into Wildalpen, but it seemed a bit too small to provide either. Then we spotted a small hotel with a restaurant. Art mentioned it had probably once been a factory as the valley’s Brunn River ran under a corner of the building large enough to house a waterwheel.
The food was good, but our room was even better. We went to sleep that night and awoke in the morning to the comforting sounds of the river flowing directly under our bed.
That stay in Wildalpen was 28 years ago and neither of us recalls much more. But our room with the “river running through it” was sufficiently memorable that at least once a year, one of us mentions it.
We recently experienced something similar. Art surprised daughter Katie and me by renting a cottage in Britain's Wales. The Afon Rhaeadr - the Rhaeadr River - is more a large stream than a river and it flows about 100 feet from the cottage. But the swiftly-moving water rushing over the stony river bed makes it louder than the Brunn. It provided a soothing background sound to our time in the cottage, even with the windows closed.
The building once had been a chapel for the village of Commins, a place never more than a collection of a few homes. The Welsh valley is narrower and the hillsides greener than those of Austria. Wildalpen surrounded a smooth asphalt highway, while the cottage is reached by an undulating one-track road. Some places are so narrow our car touched weeds from both sides of the road. When we met another car, one or the other had to back up to the occasional wide place to let the other pass.
But the location meant a bit more to Art than just a place to recapture that long-ago Austrian experience. In a way, Art and Katie were returning to their ancestral home. Almost two miles to the southeast, the road ends in a village about the same size as Wildalpen. Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant has two claims to fame. In 1995, it was the place where most of the movie, “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain” was filmed. The other dates to 1578, when local minister William Morgan translated the Bible into Welsh.
But for the Vaughans, its significance is more personal. In 1791 in a cottage just west of the village, Art’s great-great grandfather Richard Vaughan was born. About seven miles to the northwest from the cottage is the even-smaller village of Llandrillo. In 1794, it was the birthplace of Richard’s bride-to-be Anne Williams.
A line drawn between the two villages passes through Pistyll Rhaeadr - a waterfall. While small in flow, it is half again the height of Niagara Falls and considered one of the must-see sights in Wales.
Members of the churches in Llanrhaeadr and Llandrillo would occasionally walk to the waterfall to have a picnic. It was at one of these that Richard and Anne met.
They married on May 10, 1816, but not in the church of the bride as was the custom. Instead, they married in the Llansilin church about six miles to the northeast of Llanrhaeadr. The most probable reason for the venue was Richard’s employment as a sawyer. In those times, work was a six-day-a-week affair with days off only for illness.
Art’s great-grandfather Thomas was the seventh of Richard and Anne’s 10 children. After working a few years on nearby farms, Tom decided to leave for California, earning his passage by working as a member of the ship’s crew. After a disappointing period looking for gold, he walked to Wisconsin where his brothers Evan and Edward had previously settled on farms.
At the time Tom left Wales, there was little chance for a common working man to ever own his own farm. So four of his brothers also left for the United States. In addition to the two brothers in Wisconsin, one settled in Ohio and another in New York. Tom became a farmer and did his best to induce his sisters and their husbands to join them in America. In a letter Tom wrote to Elizabeth, he used what I had always considered a modern expression, telling her to remember that it was important to “look out for number one!”
During the Civil War, Evan was in the service and Tom would walk daily to his brother’s farm two miles away to do the chores. Those trips took him past Sarah Cannaday’s farm. Her husband, like Evan, was also serving in the Union Army. But unlike Evan, Ira was killed. Tom and Sarah later married and had three boys. Only Art’s grandfather Edgar lived to have children of his own. Edgar’s fourth boy was also named Thomas. He was Art’s father.
When Katie and fiancé Matt were considering wedding venues earlier this year, Pistyll Rhaeadr was a first consideration. But the legal details made it too difficult. The requirements for non-citizens to marry in Great Britain are so stringent that one wedding website suggested the only reasonable thing to do was to secretly marry at home, and then have guests attend a mock ceremony in Wales.
Katie and Matt decided against that, so there will be no Wales marriage for us to attend. Still, we think of our stay at the old stone chapel as the Vaughans coming full circle - of coming home again. And I have a hunch Richard and Anne would have been amused and amazed that their great-great-great granddaughter had returned to a place they knew so well.
Left: Katie and Art in front of the sole remaining wall of the home where Katie's great-great grandfather Thomas Vaughan was born; right: Art and Katie at Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall where Thomas' parents Richard Vaughan and Anne Williams met.